Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Mac developers have to embrace the app store

Apple has launched the Mac app store and now it is as easy to buy applications for your Mac as it is for your iPhone. Users cheer but some developers take a more reserved stance. As was the case with the app store for iOS devices, the restrictions Apple enforces on an app before it can be admitted to the hallowed halls of the Mac app store can be rather crippling. 

Some of the rules are: No access escalation, i.e. no super-user privileges for apps and no use of private API's; Automatic multi-machine license due to consumer focus: the Apple ID of the user is the key to app use. This is great for users but wrecks many a developer's license model; Auto updates from within the app are a no-no, only Apple's app store update system may be used; Apple will not allow paid upgrades. An upgrade therefore is a new app which has to be approved again and must be delivered in full; No support for two versions of the same app so no supporting older systems in future. This is going to put some developers who like to help their customers by supporting legacy software in a bad light even if it is not their fault.

The Mac app store is a 1.0 product. Apple often starts off fiercely restrictive and relaxes a bit after a while. This has been true for the app store for iOS devices and probably will be true for the Mac app store as well. That is why some developers choose to wait and see where it all goes.

Where it all goes can be guessed at, though. 1 million downloads on the first day is a good indicator where it will go as far as the consumer is concerned. The ease with which software can be found and installed is compelling and all the above mentioned niggles are firmly placed in the developer's camp. The everyday user of the Mac is loving the experience.

Apart from the ease of use, the consumer has another expectation from an Apple run app store: cheap apps that do one thing very well. In general, software does not have to be as expensive as some developers want us to believe. Apple's own apps are cheap and cheerful. The iWork apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) are $14,99 each and offer all most of us need. No need for other more expensive office suites on our Macs. And Apple has slashed the price of Aperture to $79,00 which makes Adobe's Lightroom look a tad overpriced. In general users will expect their apps to be easy to install, user friendly and reasonably priced.

These expectations stem from the fact that the average user will not make all the distinctions a developer will want to make. To the average user an app is an app is an app. And bought at the Mac app store it has to be a particular kind of experience, regardless who developed the app.

The ease of use and the integration into the operating system of the Mac app store means that it will become the de-facto place to buy Mac apps. Those developers that are not willing to dance to Apple's tune will find it harder and harder to sell their apps in any sort of volume. The ecosystem will become self regulating without Apple having to shut off the Mac to other ways of distributing software, which they are not doing incidentally. Install through DVD or proprietary online store is still very much an option. So Adobe can continue to charge their loyal customers vast amounts of money for upgrades every year. But whether they will continue to be a major player on the Mac platform that way? I have my doubts. A lot of young, smart developers are waiting in the wings to take on the big boys and the Mac app store may just give them the distribution channel they need. And if you need more proof of that I only need to mention Angry Birds, the game EA wishes they had thought of.

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